Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Kiwi detained on drug charges appears in UAE court

Four New Zealanders were arrested in the December 19 drugs bust in Sharjah. Photo / Thinkstock
Four New Zealanders were arrested in the December 19 drugs bust in Sharjah. Photo / Thinkstock

A New Zealander detained for more than two months on drugs charges in the United Arab Emirates has appeared briefly in court.

The appearance follows the arrest of four New Zealand citizens living in the UAE in a drugs bust in Sharjah on December 19.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said one of the arrested New Zealanders was released by Emirati authorities, but the other three remained in detention.

Only one of the three defendants was present for a brief 10-minute court appearance on Monday, an MFAT spokeswoman said.

The hearing was adjourned for more than three weeks until March 19.

New Zealand's Consulate-General in Dubai was clarifying with local authorities exactly what charges all three defendants would face, as well as the next steps in the judicial process.

"Consular staff in Dubai continue to provide updates and advice to the families of the detainees concerned," MFAT said.

"As is the case with all legal proceedings involving New Zealand citizens, the ministry cannot comment on the ongoing legal process or interfere in the judicial proceedings of another country."

Consular staff had visited the detained New Zealanders on three occasions to check on their health and wellbeing and provide consular support.

The UAE has strict laws concerning drugs offences. In 2012, Briton Nathaniel Lees was sentenced to death by firing squad and spent time on death row after selling less than an ounce of cannabis. His fate remains unclear.

Despite the strict sentences, death penalties in the UAE are automatically reviewed by the Appeal Court, then the Supreme Court and finally by the Court of Cassation, the Telegraph reported.

Usually, 19 judges consider the punishment and if one dissents, the capital sentence is quashed.

The country's leaders can also veto the ultimate punishment. Of the around 12 people who have received capital sentences for drugs offences since 2007, none have been executed.

- Additional reporting: Brendan Manning

- APNZ

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